Straddling the Equator, the steep forest-clad mountainsides shrouded in mist epitomise the "Land of the Clouds" – a result of the combination of highland terrain surrounded by sea, and the hot, damp climate. The perpetual warmth and moisture makes Borneo incredibly verdant, with nearly 11,000 species of flowering plants and more than 700 species of trees. Numerous large rivers, most of them chocolate brown in the lower stretches, flow from Borneo's mountains into the sea, many carving mysterious valleys.
The world's third-largest island (after Greenland and New Guinea) lies in the South China Sea south-west of the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, south-east of the Philippines and north of the Indonesian island of Java. It straddles the Equator, and has a hot and humid climate.
Three countries claim a share of Borneo. Seven-tenths is taken up by the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. The majority of the north of the island belongs to Malaysia, split between the states of Sarawak (to the west) and Sabah (to the east). Tucked between these two areas is the smallest and richest constituent, the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam – better known simply as Brunei.
A brief history of Borneo?
The island is thought to have been inhabited for over 35,000 years; perhaps 3,000 years ago, foreign traders began to visit, but it was five centuries ago that more significant changes came about.
The first Westerners to arrive were the Portuguese in 1521: the Spanish followed soon after. The Dutch came at the beginning, and the British in the middle, of the 17th century. Islam and Christianity also arrived.
A number of settlements were established along the coast, most notably Brunei. As elsewhere, the European superpowers began to wrest control from the local rulers: coastal Borneo roughly became divided between the British (to the north) and the Dutch (to the west, south and east). But the vast, inaccessible heart of the island was largely unaffected – not least because of a certain reluctance to explore by outsiders wary of headhunters.
In 1840, James Brooke, a British army officer, arrived in Borneo and helped the Sultan repress rebel tribes. The following year, in recognition of his services, he was made Rajah and established Kuching as capital of Sarawak. Known as the "White Rajahs", Brooke's descendants continued to rule Sarawak until the Japanese arrived in 1942 and occupied Borneo until 1945.
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